MIL-OSI Australia: Inspired to teach

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Source: Australian Education Union

11 June 2024

Stephanie Accary, Year 4–4 teacher, Yubup Primary School, Melbourne

TERRIFIED, BUT EXCITED

Recent Canadian immigrant to Australia, Stephanie Accary recalls her teacher-mother’s advice to “do whatever you want, just don’t be a teacher”. “Mum said, and I could see, it was a challenging job, but I really enjoyed it. That prompted me to disregard her advice,” says Accary. She took her time getting into the classroom, wending her way through hospitality roles, including management, and later education assistant work. She obtained a master in primary teaching, specialising in mathematics and inclusive education, then did CRT teaching work. Accary, who is now based in Melbourne, is beginning her second year of teaching. “I’m terrified, but excited. Even in the tricky times, I’ll find positivity,” she says. “I’ve only been in the school three times so far and, with less than a week to the start of term, there’s no furniture in my classroom. I haven’t been able to put up things on the walls yet because they’re still doing construction,” she says of Yubup Primary, a new school with a capacity for 650 students in Mickleham in Melbourne’s outskirts. The school, named after a Woiwurrung word meaning “parakeet”, opens with 400 students.

NEW SCHOOL, NEW YEAR

The school community is very invested in education and had a lot of voice and choice in how the school will run, says Accary. She’s written lesson plans for the first three weeks and will set up structures and routines for her Year 4–5 composite class of 21 students. Curriculum leaders have written the scope and sequence for the school year, so she’ll work from those. The school embraces explicit teaching and a positive behaviour for learning approach. The latter is evidence-based, multi-tiered and supports positive outcomes for students’ social, emotional, and academic development. “You can’t do the teaching if you don’t have happy, healthy learners, which is why our professional learning is focusing on behaviour management – to set us up on a good foot,” she says. Her first goal is to establish positive relationships with her students. “If they don’t like me, they will not learn from me. So, I’ll try to treat the first couple of weeks like summer camp, have fun and get to know each other,” she says. Accary can empathise with struggling learners: “I couldn’t read until I was about 10 or 11 because I was made to fit in a mould and learn the same way as neurotypical children.” Accary says that when her parents put her into another school, with small classes, and self- determined and experiential learning, “it changed my life”. “It made me love school and want to be a teacher and help students have more agency in their lives.”

INCLUSIVE PRACTICES

Her mother, then a special education teacher, taught her “memory tricks” which helped with Accary’s preference to learn by hearing. “Through university, I couldn’t really take notes. I’d just have to be an active listener, otherwise it just goes in one ear and out the other,” she says. Once she’s settled into her new permanent role, Accary will ask the principal if she can run a staff meeting to set up a school sub-branch of the union: “We will elect staff representatives and we’ll do the union training this year. I’m heading to the [AEU] Federal Conference in a few weeks as a new educator observer.” In her short time in the profession, Accary says unionism has offered many opportunities. “I’d encourage every new educator to get involved with the union because it’s a fun way to make friends, grow as a teacher and advance your career.” Accary sees herself in teaching for the long-term. “I definitely see myself in a leadership position, hopefully in five to 10 years,” she says.


Amy Herring, Year 6–10 teacher, Holland Street School, Geraldton, WA

HELPING STUDENTS BLOSSOM

Special needs teacher Amy Herring is thrilled to be starting 2024 in charge of her own class in Geraldton, 400km north of Perth. She has been co-teaching for three years and says she is looking forward to making all the decisions to run her class. It’s Herring’s twelfth year at special education school-designated Holland Street School; she began working there as an educational assistant. Before that, she notched up six years working as a manager at McDonald’s. “I love learning and teaching people and seeing them at that ‘a-ha’ moment when they learn something new. I tried mainstream teaching, but can’t say it’s really for me,” she says. Holland Street School has nine classes, 76 students, 14 teachers, more than 50 education assistants, three office staff and three leaders. Herring, has the Year 6 to 10 class. Most of her students are non-verbal or have complex communication and learning needs. She describes herself as her students’ communication partner, working closely with them and their families and designing individual learning plans. “I love seeing learners blossom into amazing young people,” she says.

TEACHING TOOLS

Assistive technology is a vital part of teaching at Holland Street. “Our school works hard to help organise, through the NDIS, speech pathology and an electronic communication device that is suited to each student,” says Herring. Those devices give her students a voice. Herring uses an iPad while working around the room with students, modelling how to use her communication device and speech for the students. She uses verbal communication as well as sign language (Auslan) and, for some students, images. “I use the TD SNAP app for my lessons to project from my iPad to a smartboard to show students our learning pathway for the day,” she says. Teachers at Holland Street follow their students as they progress through the year levels, which Herring says helps to create a bond between students, families and allied health professionals. “Having had the same students for three years, I know where they’re at with their letters, sounds, behaviours, their triggers and how to keep them in a calm state,” she says. “We still have students with tier-three behaviours across the school, but we support behaviour needs as much as we support curriculum needs, we individualise and adjust for the student in front of us.”

THE YEAR AHEAD

One of Herring’s goals for this term is to be “the best communication partner I can be” for a new student with complex needs. “They’ll be in Year 7 and haven’t had any early intervention to meet their learning needs, so I’m hoping an education assistant who’s worked with our primary school year levels for 20 years can guide me.” And while last year she had nine students and five EAs, this year it’s seven students and three EAs. “Staffing is a constant challenge for the school to manage. Not everyone is suited to working in disability. Classes are staffed according to student need, ability, age etc,” she says. “Staffing shortages are well known at the moment across the state, but the education department is trying hard to be creative with recruitment.” In Herring’s role as the State School Teachers Union Western Australia (SSTUWA) delegate, and as a member of the SSTUWA women’s committee, she will continue to speak out about the different challenges in special education.


Rachel Wallis, High-school English and society and culture teacher, Woolgoolga High School, NSW

INSPIRED TO TEACH

First Nations woman Rachel Wallis has begun her seventh year as a teacher, inspired to enter the profession by the “great” teachers who taught her. Her grandmother is a Wiradjuri woman and a member of the Stolen Generations. Wallis feels a strong link to the Gumbaynggirr Country on which she teaches at Woolgoolga High School, north of Coffs Harbour on the NSW coast. It’s the same school she attended. She teaches society and culture to senior students and junior history and geography classes, but it’s a compulsory class that’s a highlight – she team-teaches the Gumbaynggirr language and culture to Year 7 students. “One of our tasks is to have students write an Acknowledgement or Welcome to Country in English and Language,” says Wallis. Teaching isn’t her first profession. For three years, she was a conveyancing paralegal, before moving to Western Australia to work as a mine and export administrator. “I only did it for a year as I found I was spending a lot of my time and money returning home,” she says. She moved back to Coffs Harbour, aged 21, bought a block of land, built a house, and began a full-time teaching degree, while also returning to full-time conveyancing work. “Legal work is very process driven and there’s not much change day-to-day. What I love about teaching is that two days are never the same,” she says. “I love the relationships I build with students and their smiles on their first day back when they get their timetables and see Mrs Wallis on there and get excited.”

TEACHERS SUPPORTING EACH OTHER

Towards the end of her degree, Wallis completed a six-month internship through the Great Teaching Inspired Learning Paraprofessional program run by the NSW Department of Education. That was in addition to her 10-week practicum. “I spent so much time with experienced teachers on the program. My mentor really took me under his wing and helped me finally get the job I’m in now,” Wallis says. She’s a NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) councillor, a member of her school’s Aboriginal Education Committee and has been the NSWTF representative for her school. For six months last year, Wallis worked as a NSWTF project officer. “That’s always been a highlight at school knowing that teachers trust me to chat about a work issue and I work with the school executive to reach a good resolution,” she says. During her work for the NSWTF, she visited schools across Sydney, including some with up to 2000 students. “So many newer teachers are thrown into the deep end. I talk to them about how the union is like a handbook in a teacher’s back pocket. For example, if a principal asks me to do something I’m concerned about, I can call or email professional support,” says Wallis.

PUTTING THE FUN INTO TEACHING

When not at school, Wallis writes and revises Human Society and Environment (HSIE) textbooks for publisher Jacaranda and keeps active. “I play AFL and my husband and I are getting into hiking and being more outdoorsy as we have a 30-acre hobby farm,” she says. It’s about bringing more fun and local connections into her life, and that’s her approach to teaching too: “Over the years in my teaching career, I’ve been trying to make instruction more engaging to help kids have fun. “Bringing fun and the real world into teaching, like a bushtucker walk with a local Elder sharing their knowledge or explaining the thousands-of-years-old stories behind landmarks, helps students better remember and understand.”


Tom Hermes, English and history high school teacher, Laynhapuy Homelands School, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory

THE LANGUAGE OF LEARNING

Tom Hermes had an inkling of what remote teaching in East Arnhem Land would involve before he began his latest role. He was born in the Northern Territory, grew up in the Australian Capital Territory and regularly visited friends in the NT with his parents. Now, as he begins his third year of teaching, his week-to-week reality is fly-in, fly-out from his home at Yirrkala, bunk down in a boarding school for three nights, participate in traditional ceremonies, and teach students (who may already speak three or four languages) English. His teaching contract allows him two return flights per year from the nearby Gove airport to Darwin. “It’s a unique teaching environment and I have the perks of not paying rent, power, or water bills. I live in a ‘dry’ community and teach at Garrthalala (119km from Yirrkala) Tuesdays to Fridays. Students from nine homeland communities in the region board there during the week,” he says. “After school, I umpire the footy on the airstrip and we’ll go on hunting trips to get mud mussels, fish or stingrays.” There are three visiting teachers, two Yolŋu educators, two other staff, and community members who act as house parents and help with after-hours supervision and cooking. Last year Hermes moved from provision to full registration thanks to support from his mentor teacher. “The process seemed like a lot of work on top of my role. I was pretty lucky, I had part of Mondays when I worked in the office to chip away at it, but I understand other teachers have to do it over the weekends,” he says. Other 2023 highlights were building his teaching confidence to pace his instruction more consistently. He also designed the English scope and sequence for the senior school. “I was really happy with the way it worked. I chose short texts about the local Yolŋu culture that students found accessible and engaging because they were familiar with the content. The focus was on practising reading and comprehension, and we supplemented that with short videos.” The boarding school has unreliable internet, so Hermes always has non-tech back- up plans. “Not having the internet always on is a nice factor because students aren’t getting so hung up on having access.” “The students have a lot of pride in their culture, engaging in ceremonies and hunting, and speaking in multiple dialects. They only use English at school because, for them, English is like a foreign language,” Hermes says. He’s managed to pick up words and phrases in the local Dhuwaya dialect, but he lacks options to learn it formally. This year, Hermes will continue to teach English, mathematics, and an accessible version of Aboriginal studies called community connections to students in Years 9 to 12.

KEEPING COOL

The extreme temperatures and humidity can be challenging for students and teachers, and the lack of air conditioning in the main classroom doesn’t help, says Hermes. “It gets very hot, especially in the wet season. It’s too hot to go outside because of the humidity, but if there’s a breeze, we’ll sometimes take the class out onto the deck.” Hermes is the school’s AEU sub-branch president and, at last year’s NT AEU Conference, he proposed a motion, which called for every NT classroom to have air conditioning, internet access, and basic resources. While most classrooms across the Territory already meet this standard, a number – such as Laynhapuy Homelands School – still don’t. Hermes says it would make a big difference for teachers and students.

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